Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary and Labour MP for Tooting has expressed support for a proposed free school in his constituency, Graveney School. It would be a two form entry primary school opening next year.
Mr Khan says:
"There is clearly a need for this school in the proposed location, and I have confidence that with the backing of the council and an excellent local school, it will be a great success.
"This is a good plan and I'm pleased Wandsworth Council have been proactive in addressing this local need."
It is not the only free school planned for Tooting. There is also Katharine Birbalsingh's Michaela Community School. This also has council backing (which Mr Khan seems to regard as a prerequisite for a free school to meet his endorsement.) But Mr Khan has decided that there isn't a "need" for it. Shouldn't that be for parents to decide? He says "the government is quite happily spending taxpayers money on this ‘free school’, which has already been rejected by parents in Lambeth. Wandsworth and the government should be standing up for local schools, and addressing the shortage of primary school places – not wasting money on an ideological experiment."
But to say there should be not surplus places is to say there should be not parental choice. That bureaucrats should allocate each child to each place. Contrary to his claim that the Michaela School has been rejected by Lambeth parents it has been rejected by Lambeth's Labour councillors. People such as the Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg's bag carrier Cllr Alex Bigham.
The verdict of Lambeth parents and Tooting parents on the Michaela School should become clear in September when it is due to open and we will see if it is filled with their children. They will make their own decision on whether their children "need" the school – despite the decree from Mr Khan and Cllr Bigham that unwanted schools with lower standards and surplus places are perfectly adequate.
No doubt Mr Khan will be able to offer a convincing explanation as to why the Michaela free school is an "ideological experiment" but the Graveney free school isn't. Also if Mr Khan is so keen on being "proactive" to get the Graveney free school up and running how unfortunate that he wasn't more "proactive" on July 19th 2010. On that date he voted against the Academies Bill second reading – that was the legislation which allowed free schools to be established.
The truth is that Labour are still engaging in the most painful contortions when it comes to free schools. But a direction of travel can be detected.